Work

People Talk About Leaving Their Soul-Crushing Rat Race Jobs

We asked how it all worked out after committing career suicide.

by Sarah Berman
20 July 2017, 2:22am

Has anyone tried career napping? Asking for a friend. Photo via pixabay

Fuck capitalism. Burn it down. Why can't I just take naps for a living?

These are real thoughts that probably cycle through my head every three to seven hours. For most of my adult life I've assumed everyone had the same tendency to fantasize about different ways to quit your job. And judging by a brief survey of my friends, I'm mostly right. (Journalists, it turns out, have particularly deep imaginations when it comes to career suicide.)

But not everyone has the guts to actually pull the trigger—potentially forever ending a career you might have spent a decade or more trying to build. It takes a special kind of work-hater to leave the nine-to-five grind entirely, maybe even starting a new technology-free existence as a bartender or dog walker or goat milker.

Granted, not everyone works at a desk during daylight hours, and "rat race" can mean different things to different people. But given my own obsession with fleeing a competitive field, I wanted to know which non-competitive, cubicle-free alternatives actually work for people. Does goat farming really feel like an escape from capitalism? Or have they just replaced one rat race with another? Do they have the money to feed themselves and/or are they filled with regret?

To find out, I compiled the stories of folks who say they successfully 100 percent escaped the so-called rat race. Feel free to plan your own extrication from the shackles of capitalism accordingly. (Disclaimer: If any of these push you to actually quit your job, please do not @ me when shit doesn't work out.)

Nadya, 35
Reporter turned veggie farmer

My chosen career was working as a journalist. I started in student press which was a lot of fun. At Carleton I remember racing Jack Layton on my bike, showing up at the press gallery in crazy clothes—no boss to speak of, just me.

After I graduated I went back to Newfoundland, started working at The Telegram as a daily reporter, and that was a totally different game. I was the bottom of the food chain, working in an old boys' locker room environment. I was working swing shifts—two weeks of days, two weeks of nights. I handled all the "somebody has to do this" assignments, like go to this unveiling of the new police horse.

I wrote a lot of medical stories, one man I interviewed needed to be flown to Nova Scotia for epilepsy treatment… I was told to drop the story, then he threatened to kill himself. He called and said you have to write a story about me, and they told me to hang up on him. For me that was really hard. I realized I needed to go somewhere else where I could make a difference and relate to people in a human way—as opposed to doing busy work for the hungry internet machine.

I went to farming next because my parents taught me a bit about gardening, and I had opportunity to help take over an organic farm from an owner looking to retire. I really put my writing skills to one side, and started using other parts of my body, rather than using my brain all the time. When my boss at the Telegram called me back two or three months later, I told him I was blissfully weeding cauliflower.

The pay in journalism is truthfully better than farming. But at least farming was more interesting—I needed something to do with my body. After a couple of years of farming, I knew I couldn't raise a family on that income, so I've gone back to school for massage therapy.

I haven't gone back to the nine-to-five, and I don't think I ever will. I've learned that anything you're doing is going to take up time and energy, so you might as well do something you love, something helping you learn on a spiritual level, not just something that will get you a house and car.

Ashley, 34
Finance admin turned pro-crafter

I've been in customer service or the finance industry for 13 years. Earlier this year I was working in securities and investments, and I was personally investing thousands and thousands of dollars each day. It was very high stress—lots of pressure from the people I worked for, and extremely long hours. I would go in at 7 AM and not know when I'd be leaving for the day. Basically no work-life balance, which is typical for that kind of corporation that says they're all about mental health and wellbeing but they're just not.

I struggle with mental illness, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder four years ago and suffer from related depression and anxiety. It got to a point where I was doing really well, and then I just couldn't keep up anymore. I was taking sick days. It came to a head back in March—I couldn't leave the house for a couple weeks. Just the thought of going to that environment made my body shut down. Literally nope, can't leave.

I had money but I didn't have time to do the things I enjoy. I didn't feel like I was making a difference, it didn't feel like it was my journey. I've always been a creative person. I've usually had something on the side that relieved the monotony of working nine-to-five. Three years ago I started a line of crochet-ware—mostly hats, mittens, and scarves—and I do screen printing as well.

I've been doing this full time for four months now, and it's the greatest thing I've ever done. I'm so insanely happy. I get this new emotion I call stress-cited. I'm stress-cited all the time. I don't mind being stressed when the game is mine.

My schedule is relatively fluid. Now I get up around the same time, putter around, I might sit and turn out a few dogshit ideas. Then I might go to lunch with friends and come back and try again. It's not usually until the rest of the world quiets down, and all my peers are online talking about their struggle, I start to get creative.

In hindsight I wish I had maybe taken a few more months to plan to quit my job and save a bit more. It all happened within a month. Financially I have enough that if I want to go out for dinner with someone I can. Can I go on a vacation? No. But I also never wanted those kinds of things. I'm not just getting by, things are OK, but when bills come up I think 'Hmmm, how is this going to work?' But it always does.

If things get bad would I have to go back and get another crummy job? OK, that's fine, I've been doing that my whole life. It's just money. If you need to go waitress you'll do it, but working a job that's crushing your soul—life's too short for that.

Shannon, 32
Journalist turned dog walker

I guess I started right out of journalism school, and it was free internship after free internship, low-paid job after low-paid job. I worked at a music rag, a wedding magazine, I interned at CTV. I worked at another Groupon-type place. I was just grinding out crap day-in and day-out and I hated it.

In my last job I had just spent $1,400 on a new desktop computer when they went under. They laid everybody off. That did it in for me, I needed to make money and I was going nowhere with writing.

I had dog walked while in school, and so I started dog walking again. It immediately changed everything. Everything got better. I was working with another woman who owned the company. The hours were usually 10 to 3, and I was making just as much money as I was writing. The payoff was pretty immediate. I was paid per dog, so once you get comfortable with a larger pack of dogs, you can walk more during the day.

There was no pressure anymore which was really nice. I didn't want the pressure, and my days went to something more relaxing. I felt accomplished at the end of the day. It leaves time to do other things, like I can still write in my spare time. It wasn't as fully draining as a day of writing, where I went from daylight to dusk just staring at a computer and realizing I haven't done anything.

Aziza, 33
PR consultant turned goat milker

I was stuck in an office cubicle for eight-plus hours a day feeling like I was working endless hours all week just for two days off. I was always broke, always struggling to keep my head above water.

I was doing a lot of assembling media reports every morning, calls with clients, and admin stuff as well, keeping the company rolling and keeping clients happy. There was a lot of make-work, and so my title didn't necessarily reflect what I did. I was given all the leftovers and things other people didn't want to deal with.

Then I actually got really sick. I had this chronic thing that kept coming back, and I couldn't figure out what it was. I started to realize part of it was how I felt psychologically. I realized how unhappy I was—with my whole life situation but especially my job. And that had something to do with why I was getting sick. I probably thought about it for a month or so and finally realized I needed to get the wheels rolling.

I was fortunate enough to get onto EI, and at first I started travelling. When I got back I knew the city was not where I wanted to be, and I ended up on Salt Spring Island. I wasn't sure what the game plan was, I knew I loved farming and gardening and stuff, and I kind of stumbled upon this goat farm.

I fell into it and it worked out really well. I started living and WWOOFing there and felt so fulfilled. These animals needed me to feed and milk them, they were always waiting for me. For me it was mostly being able to see the fruits of my labour. It was so simple, versus working in a cubicle.

Living out of the city in a smaller community is such a different experience. I didn't always have money, but because I lived in a community, I could barter my belongings or goat milk for something else. I felt more rich than I did before. I guess one of the downsides was that it obviously wasn't my farm. You're living in their house under their rules, and that started to take a toll on me. I wanted to do more of it, but have my own personal space separate from work.

I definitely believe if you are having doubts about what you're doing, you should take the plunge. Even if it wasn't ideal or perfect, it really taught me a lot about myself and what I value, what I don't value and what my boundaries are.

Brad, 40
Film technician turned bartender

When I worked as a technician in the film industry, I was working 80 to 90 hour weeks. That's just the way the film industry works—it's a minimum 12-hour day, and when you're shooting it's upwards of 15, 16 hours, and you're doing it for weeks at a time. I once worked 32 days straight.

You get addicted to the money—the more hours you work, the more your pay increases, the more you make. In film, anytime they say sorry they say it with money.

I guess it was around my daughter's third birthday, when I had come home from a bunch of contracts. After not seeing me for a few weeks, she was acting strange. She wouldn't run up to me saying "Daddy!" and all that fun stuff parents are supposed to have. I hated it and I wanted to make a change.

We knew we wanted land of some sort—my wife loves horses. We decided to move somewhere where our investments and income could go further, so we moved from Vancouver to Meeford, Ontario. Population about 4,000. Coming to rural Ontario, the cost of living was like night and day. Mortgage, groceries, everything is cheaper.

We're still figuring out how it all works. There's a lot of grass to cut, and land to tend. We have goats and chickens and rabbits, but it's fun. I sell some eggs but that's not a major money-making thing. I tend bar two nights a week at the local pub in town and pretty much take it easy. My wife started her own theatre company, teaching acting and performance, so she's found her niche.

If I had to go back to something, or needed to make a quick buck, I'd go back to film. Right now I don't have the same stresses or pressures—that constant thinking about the next day's work. There's a whole part of my brain that I don't use anymore. For now I like what we're doing, I like working at the pub. It's basically the only watering hole in town, the best job I could get.

Interviews have been edited for clarity and style.

Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.